The Importance of Family Connection
By Craig Struble, LCSW, LAC
This article is a continuation of our series addressing risk and protective factors. Risk factors increase the likelihood of youth getting involved in risky behaviors, like drug or alcohol use. Protective factors wrap a youth in protection and lessen their chances of getting involved in risky activities.
“There are not enough hours in the day” is a phrase I hear often. Life seems to be busier these days than in the days of June Clever or Mrs. Cunningham. Often both parents are out of the home working. We have our kids in activities, which seems to have us going all the time, as well. And then we have the social media craze, which can often get in the way of spending good, quality time together, for kids and for adults. One of the biggest struggles I see when working with children and families is the distance that is created just because of life.
Attachment has become a key word in the world of mental health and, while it is the basis for how we, as infants, learn to interact with others, it is not something that is sustained without continued nurturing of the attachment. As parents, it is important that we continue to make it a point to be part of our children’s lives. Studies have shown that parental involvement can do things like increase self-esteem and increase academic achievement. Some studies have also suggested as much as a 40% lower chance of developing depression in early adulthood in children with a higher parental involvement.
Now this does not mean that I am suggesting that we need to be helicopter parents, hovering over everything our kids do and not giving them the ability to work through some struggles on their own. What it does mean is we must make a cognizant effort to engage with our children. So what are ways that we can do this without inhibiting our children’s development?
As I looked back over how I did things with my kids, it appeared that it was easier and more natural to spend time bonding when they were younger. Doing things like sitting down and reading a book or getting down on the floor to build Legos all help to build that bond. As they start into school, we find ourselves wanting to look through their backpacks to see what cute things they did in class that day, and we have them explain it to us. We are naturally more engaged because everything is new for both of us. It is vital for us as parents to delight in our children as a way to strengthen our bond and connection.
As our children grow, it is important for parents to let children explore and develop in things that interest them. This is not to say you need to sign your kid up for every camp there is in the summer, but it is important that you allow your children to try things that they suggest they might want to do. That might mean going out and playing catch or helping them with their lines for a school play. Or it could be doing some science experiment or having them help you fix something in the garage. The point is to help our children find their interests and then support them in developing them.
As our children get older and move into adolescence, connection can get more challenging. Natural development has the adolescent looking for more autonomy and independence. Their peers become a bigger part of their life, but this does not take away from the importance of parents during this time in their life. It is important for parents to be able to validate their children’s feelings. One way to do this is to be available for them. Often times in the busy day-to-day things of life, it is easy to overlook things that seem minuscule or unimportant, but checking in with our kids daily about how their day is can help to validate feelings and keep us connected. It is also important to set limits and guidelines. While often times we might think that this creates a power struggle, it also helps to plant the seeds of connection and that you care as a parent.
One of my catch phrases is that they do not give parents a play book on how it’s going to be to parent a child. There are bound to be ups and downs, but hopefully staying connected and bonding doesn’t have to be one of them. Five tips for this are:
- Be available and give your children all of your attention at least some of the time.
- Delight in your child.
- Validate and help your child manage their feelings.
- Learn about and get involved in their interests.
- Set limits and guidelines.
In today’s world, families might not eat dinner together every night like it looked like it on the TV shows Happy Days or Leave it to Beaver, but the importance of that family time is still as important. So find ways to keep that connection maybe even doing a TikTok video with your adolescent.